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Communications at the Forefront of Your Back-to-School Strategy

Communications at the Forefront of Your Back-to-School Strategy

As we look to the next school year, we reflect on our impromptu distance learning experience: what worked, what didn't and how to create a well-rounded educational strategy in the face of another potential COVID outbreak. Please make sure in all your planning you include a comprehensive communication plan for your stakeholders that details and explains your plans.

Not only must school leaders collaborate on plans that address all students' unique learning needs, but those plans must then be shared with everyone involved: board and staff members, families, local media and community partners. So how on earth do you do that?! Bit by bit and thoughtfully.

Once you have formulated a comprehensive in-person and virtual learning plan that your board has approved, it's time to share with your staff. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to communicating that plan:

  1. Staff communication
    This is the first and most critical aspect of communication. Leadership must cover the plan in-depth, elaborating on roles and responsibilities, tools to be used, schedules to be followed, etc. It will be critical for leaders to answer all staff questions, clarify anything not completely understood and listen--listen to their concerns, worries and frustrations. Your staff must be fully on board with the plan before you share it externally because they will be the ones to implement it in their classrooms, whether that be in person, virtually or a combination. Having staff buy-in is critical to your strategy's success.
  2. Family communication
    The next step is to share and explain a simplified version of the plan through all channels parents check for district news. You may consider scheduling live virtual meetings to address concerns families have and what their technology and other needs will be in preparation. Use the questions that arise to build an FAQ that resides on your website. Update that as often as necessary.
  3. Community/public communication
    The last group to address during the communication process will be your community and local media. At this point, parents may have already shared information out on their own social media accounts. That's ok. You will need to publish information through your regular communication channels (website, Facebook, superintendent article in local newspaper, etc.) where you provide an outlined version of your district's plan. Share the FAQ page if you created one. Ensure the public understands that all decisions you've made and actions you have taken or will take are in your students' best interest. Make sure you have identified who your district spokesperson is and direct all media requests/emails/voice messages to that person. You want to control the district's message and ensure continuity throughout the process, so make sure your staff knows to whom they need to direct any requests for information or complaints.

Remember: No matter how hard you work on a plan to address the many needs your students and families have, you will NOT please every single person. That just isn't humanly possible, and it will just bring you unneeded stress, disappointment and frustration. As long as you communicate with your patrons regularly, listen to their concerns and address them as honestly and transparently as possible, you are doing the best you can. Your primary focus is that your students' learning needs are being met, your staff has what they need to do their job successfully and everyone's safety is being addressed.

Additionally, every school will have students with underlying health conditions who simply will not be able to return to a brick-and-mortar school building for a while, so it's critical that your virtual learning plan is solid and will still provide those students with access to the curriculum and to their teachers so their academic growth continues.

This is in no way is an easy process; we're charting unknown territory, and we're going to make mistakes. But that's why we have to evaluate our work and students' needs throughout the school year, correct things as we go and make sure we keep our families and communities informed throughout the process. Communities will no doubt want to support your schools wherever they can, so constant communication will be your friend as you move forward.

Please remember we are here to support you in all aspects and stages of your plan, so let us know how we can help.

Sarah Julian

Director, Communications

Sarah serves as the Director of Communications for the OPSRC. In this role, she provides support, consultation and training on a variety of critical tools and PR functions, including communication plans, social media policies, crisis communications, media relations and website content.

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